October 5, 2015 / 11:11 AM / 3 years ago

Polish PM candidate backs closer ties with neighbors on refugee crisis

WARSAW (Reuters) - An opposition lawmaker tipped to become Poland’s next prime minister after an Oct. 25 national election said Warsaw must work much more closely with its central European neighbors on issues such as migration despite their warm ties with Russia.

A migrant couple rests next to the beach following their arrival on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos, after crossing a part of the Aegean Sea from the Turkish coast, October 4, 2015. REUTERS/Dimitris Michalakis

Last month Poland broke ranks with its ex-communist partners from the ‘Visegrad group’ - Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - by backing a European Union plan to share out 120,000 refugees across the 28-nation bloc.

Under the plan Poland will take in 4,500 refugees, adding to some 2,000 it has already accepted.

Beata Szydlo’s nationalist-minded Law and Justice party (PiS), which opinion polls show winning Poland’s election, has strongly criticized the center-right government’s decision. The migrant crisis has become a key issue in the election campaign.

“Backing Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia (on migrant quotas) was in our interest,” Szydlo was quoted as saying on Monday in the daily Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

Poland’s center-right, pro-EU government says it accepted the quotas because the Visegrad group lacked the votes in the European Council to block the plan.

Analysts say Warsaw also fears it may need EU solidarity in the future if more Ukrainian refugees fleeing the conflict in eastern Ukraine end up moving to Poland.

Senior PiS officials have suggested they would oppose the relocation of migrants from war-torn Syria or Iraq to Poland if they win power, raising the prospect of further battles in Brussels on the politically toxic refugee issue.

PiS has also in the past been critical of the close ties forged by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech President Milos Zeman with Russia, which Szydlo’s party distrusts. But on Monday she signaled a more pragmatic stance.

“You can raise the issue that Orban or Zeman cooperate with Putin. It (the cooperation) is not acceptable to us. But if you do not try to build relations with them (the Czechs and Hungarians), then we are alone in the region,” she said.

Orban, in particular, has actively courted Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time when most of the rest of Europe is trying to isolate the Kremlin leader over the war in Ukraine.

Poland’s late president Lech Kaczynski, whose twin brother Jaroslaw runs PiS, died in a plane crash in Russia in 2010, along with 95 other people on board, many of them senior lawmakers.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski has long argued that Russia was behind the crash and that his brother was probably the victim of an assassination. Moscow strongly denies the accusation.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Gareth Jones

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